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China is quietly building a national voiceprint database to allow automated speaker recognition

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It’s hardly a secret that China conducts massive surveillance of all kinds, as Privacy News Online has reported many times. And yet it seems that the authorities there are still coming up with new ways to check on their 1.4 billion citizens. For example, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has just written a fascinating description of moves to extend surveillance to include voiceprint recognition.

The Chinese voiceprint project has been underway for some years, and the HRW post pulls together the scant evidence of what has been happening. For example, in 2012, China’s Ministry of Public Security announced that the construction of national voice pattern database had begun, and designated Anhui province, located in the eastern region of the country, as one of the areas where pilot schemes would be run. Anhui’s leading role in the project is confirmed by subsequent orders issued by the provincial police bureau to accelerate the database construction, and tender documents from other police stations across the region seeking bids to install voice pattern collection systems locally.

Similar purchases were made in 2016 by the police bureaus in Xinjiang, a vast region with around 10 million ethnic minority Uyghurs, following a “Notice to Fully Carry Out the Construction of Three-Dimensional Portraits, Voice Pattern, and DNA Fingerprint Biometrics Collection System”. A local police station reported that front-line officers are given monthly quotas for biometric collection.

Along with Tibet, the Turkic-speaking Xinjiang is one of the most sensitive regions for China, so the roll-out of voice pattern surveillance there is particularly noteworthy. The HRW report lists other ways in which the local Uyghur population are now routinely required to provide voiceprints to the authorities, including as part of

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